Record Store Day Gems From Z to Z

There were some really awesome reissues on Record Store Day this year including two by The Zombies, one of the legendary original British Invasion bands from the 1960s.

AR-ZombiesUK.jpgRecapping their story as briefly as possible, this band had some early hits and then due to circumstances beyond the scope of this article, they split up before their second full album could be put properly promoted. Mostly recorded in 1967 in the same studio where The Beatles recorded Sgt. Pepper (i.e.. Abbey Road), by the time it came out in the US in 1969 (at the urging of now-legendary producer/composer Al Kooper, then a staff producer at CBS) the band had splintered and a new group was formed (Argent, led by keyboardist and Zombies co-founder Rod Argent). Nonetheless, their single "Time of the Season" became a runaway smash single that year and as they say, the rest is history.

Oddly enough, the album that featured that single, Odessey and Oracle, was not a huge seller and today original LP pressings are hard to find. Fortunately, The Zombies have undergone a remarkable career renaissance, particularly since the release of Zombie Heaven, a four CD retrospective set issued in 1997. From that time onward, the band has reformed, toured, issued fine new albums and generally become (arguably) more well known than in their 60s heyday.

Still, finding a copy of Odessey and Oracle on LP has been something of a challenge apart from a reissue on the UK label Big Beat -- there was no domestic counterpart here in the United States. I was planning on picking one of them up but then I learned about the coming Record Store Day issue of the album on 180-gram vinyl on the Varese Sarabande label. I was lucky to be able to nab one of these 1500 copies pressed for Record Store Day 2014 and for the most part I am not disappointed!

AR-ZombiesO&O.jpgThe vinyl is thick, dark and quiet, the pressing well centered and each comes in an audiophile-worthy plastic-lined inner sleeve. Most importantly, the reissue sounds real nice, better than the CD version I have on Zombie Heaven, with fuller keyboard sounds and a nice roundness to singer Colin Blunstone's glorious voice. Not that I am getting rid of my copy of Zombie Heaven any time soon, this LP will however now be my go-to listen copy of this classic from until I can find an original UK pressing. The only big ding I will give the reissue is that the back cover is black and white (vs. the color on the original UK pressings I've seen). I always wonder why companies cut corners like this?

While these Record Store Day editions seem to be getting resold for high prices on eBay or Amazon, the good news is that the Big Beat label import pressing is still commonly available for about the same price as the domestic US reissue. I would recommend you don't spend crazy money on this reissue -- $20 or thereabouts is fair. Anything else is price gouging for a reissue like this.

AR-zombiesOO.jpgAlso out on the Varese Sarabande label is a curious release of a Zombies collection that only came out in Europe (according to the Zombie Heaven box set it came out in Sweden in 1966 on the Decca label). It has a fun sports themed cover that has pretty much nothing to do with the music! But the disc sounds good -- not really as full as the later recordings, which makes some sense since they were recording on more primitive equipment at that point in their careers. Not knowing the origin of the masters used for making this album I won't waste time speculating but judging simply by my ears and gut instincts, I can't help but feel the sound of this one has more of a digital feel to it. And not owning an original pressing I don't have anything to compare it to. That said, I am still super happy to have the album as obtaining an original pressing would involve spending ridiculous collectors prices and this one sounds quite decent all things considered. Should you splurge for the high prices flippers are asking on eBay and Amazon for this reissue? Probably not. Take that money and buy the Zombie Heaven Box set instead!

The next steps for me in collecting Zombies recordings is to find original UK pressings of Odessey and Oracle as well as the first album called Begin Here.

Bucket list items, for certain...

Maybe when I'm on my deathbed I'll be fading out listening on headphones to "This Will Be Our Year," drifting off to the next step on my my journey to that long sought after original LP. 

There could be worse ways to go...

Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. www.smotroff.com Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer whose songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. www.ingdom.com Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he's written: www.dialthemusical.com.

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